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View Point

By Kathy Rothschild

Saturday, May 13, 2000

Abusers sometimes
begin with cruelty
to animals

THERE was a history of violence." Those words have been echoing in the news. All around us we see, hear about, or experience violence.

In families, there is child abuse, spouse abuse, elder abuse or animal abuse, not to mention road rage, assault and worse in the community.

It has been too easy for too many people to feel that violence is someone else's problem, but as the tragic news reports increase, we have to ask "why?" and "what can I do?"

Perhaps the place to start is to understand what is happening and to look at ourselves. Are we models of the kind behavior we expect from others?

There are many kinds of violence, and they are often interrelated. At the Hawaiian Humane Society, one focus is animal abuse and its connection with other forms of human violence.

Research has shown that many violent adults began as abusers of animals. In fact, the American Psychological Association has stated that animal abuse can be an indicator of conduct disorder. It appears that teens who shot their peers at school began with incidents of harming or mutilating animals.

While every child who harms an animal will not grow up to be a murderer, this type of behavior can indicate serious problems and should be addressed. Too often violence toward animals is met with the sentiments of "boys will be boys" or "it's just a phase."

Our society frequently considers sensitivity in boys to be "wimpy." Boys are told to "be men," to "be tough."

It shouldn't be surprising, then, that the research has also shown that animal abusers are most often male. Another point to remember is that when animal abuse occurs in the home it can mean other types of abuse are also happening.

Why are people cruel to animals? There are several common reasons: to control an animal or person or retaliate against them, to "show off" or shock others for amusement, to exaggerate one's own aggressiveness, or to act out a sadistic drive.

An adult will hurt or kill a pet to punish a child or to keep the child silent about other abuse that is occurring. Sometimes children will abuse pets because they identify with their abusers, or to prove that they don't need to love or be loved.

RESEARCHERS have found that there are common environmental factors as well. Violence increases when there is stress or isolation. The physical and emotional health of a family can lead to violent behavior in both victims and perpetrators. The perpetrators are unable to empathize. Physical punishment is perceived as justifiable punishment.

What can we do? We must intervene or report incidents of violence against animals and people. We must be aware of our own actions. We must teach respect and compassion for the life around us in what we say and do.

We must work with schools and other organizations to increase awareness of the implications of all types of violence. We must accept that, to correct the problem, we must be part of the prevention and the solution.

Kathy Rothschild is the administrator of humane education at the Hawaiian Humane Society. She is available to give presentations to schools or community groups on humane education and the link between animal abuse and human violence. Call her at 946-2187, ext. 214, or send email inquiries to her at

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